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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Roiling River of Justice

Justice, like many intangible words, sounds glorious but may be entirely something else in real life. Think of faith--who doesn't want to walk by faith, until you actually HAVE to walk by faith and realize that it is an experience of murky uncertainty with little support.  Likewise, justice.  It is something we want for ourselves, when we think it means we win, and people who are not seeing things our way lose. That, it seems, is exactly how the ancient Israelites viewed God's work.  They were feeling the stress of large movements of armies through their crossroads and expecting God to destroy their enemies and restore their fortunes, to punish outsiders while pouring wealth and power onto their kingdom.

Enter Amos, a no-qualifications nobody from over the southern border, who had the audacity to speak for God. Let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  Sounds good, until you read on. The day of the Lord is darkness, not light, he said. God is all about justice and you who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, are about to get a big surprise. The river of justice is not a gentle peaceful brook where one dips toes on a grassy bank. The river of justice is more like rafting the Nile: forceful, turbulent, destructive, loud, irresistible, dangerous.

The nine Serge women on the Bundi team just started studying the minor prophets, and we're already neck-deep in the parallels between many centuries BC and 2019. Because there is nothing like living in a place where justice is so severely lacking to make the Old Testament sound reasonable, even hopeful.

Meaning, living on earth.

A few local examples from this week alone.

  • Riding in a matatu with CSB staff back from our retreat in Kasese, the driver tops up a tiny bit of fuel at a station in town as we start, as most all public transportation rides do. Taxis, buses, pikis, all deal in one-ride increments of fuel. But as soon as we are out of town, flying down the deteriorated road with its potholes and erosions at unsafe speeds, we pull off under a random mango tree where a small white sedan is parked, flat tires and dusty windows suggest it has not recently moved.  The driver hands a key to a late-teens strong-looking young man, who opens the trunk and pulls out a green jerry can and a cow horn.  This young man runs up the road, and then returns with a full can of fuel, which he then uses the cow horn to pour into the matatu. Confused, we start talking amongst ourselves, and then the other passengers hit upon the explanation:  This fuel has been stolen/skimmed/borrowed/illegally gained from the road construction crew, a way that the development money leaks out of a project and into various pockets, eventually leading to the road work not being completed or not being of a quality to last. The driver is stealing from the Ugandan people.
  • Our team physician refers a patient to a regional hospital for a specialized surgery. The family has never traveled so far, and are obvious marks for con men. Someone meets them, returns in a white coat, leads them to a room IN THE HOSPITAL, locks the door and steals all their money for the child's care.
  • The medical superintendent of the hospital is awakened at 3 am. A veritable bus of maternity disasters has arrived from a supposedly functional, high-level outlying center. The doctor assigned to that center has either not shown up all weekend or asked for illegal extra fees to care for them, so now they have been collectively referred to the one doctor who is following in Jonah's footsteps and working himself to exhaustion. In spite of a reasonable number of doctors on the payroll, I find no one but the med sup in the entire hospital on Monday, and after those 5 C-sections he's bouncing from ward to ward doing discharges and seeing the patients the nurses have determined are most critical. How long can he last like this? This is a good friend, a man we selected for a scholarship, a man we worked with for years, who has the potential to transform care. But he can't do it alone.
  • Six months ago, the local energy company took the malfunctioning transformer for the area to fix it.  We are still waiting. Various explanations are given. Meanwhile the unpredictable, intermittent power supply ruins appliances, wastes time and money, and generally makes life unnecessarily difficult. For instance, when parents brought their kids to school, there was no power to turn on the computer to confirm who had paid fees . . . 
  • And on and on, friends who tell us they have not received salaries for months of work at government schools, our lawyers telling us one thing then telling the judge another leading to another confusing delay in our defense of our land case, someone trying to re-sell land that was already bought by the mission years ago, armed thieves breaking into a nearby home to steal profits from cocoa, and on and on.
  • And if we were in America, we would also see the rising inequality as economic growth skyrockets at the top and leaves the average person behind, the shocking loss in years of life expectancy, the profit-motive behind opioid addiction, the struggle to afford health insurance, the fear-mongering that distorts our dialogue, as abundant examples of injustice in that culture. It's universal.
Yes, injustice subtly pervades nearly every aspect of life here, and most places. It feels tempting to wish to be an Amos and shout out, to uncover and expose all the dark underside of oppression. 

And then I remember two things.  First, that the roiling river is going to smash into these systems with a force that will cause a lot of pain.  The coming of justice is, as Amos said, a day that carries darkness and weeping too. Perhaps justice will mean that I'm not entitled to a car, or even a bike. Or to a fridge or several extra sets of clothes or the computer to post complaining blog posts. Second, that the coming of justice is not a way to wash people who inconvenience and frustrate us out of our path. The struggle is not against flesh and blood.  YES, the political and religious and educational and medical systems need to be held to account, refined, improved. We SHOULD demand accountability.  We SHOULD speak up for the infant who loses a life due to graft and corruption. But the enemy is not the lazy doctor or the lying engineer, the enemy is the broken crack of evil through them and all of us.  And for that, there is only one solution, the coming of God in love and power through the sacrificial service of humans who follow that calling.

That coming has begun, and even as our hearts break for much of what we see, we DO KNOW that the arc of the universe bends in the right direction. So let me leave you with more hopeful examples.

This church has been meeting for decades, and the counter-cultural radical message of the Gospel continues to be clear.  The pastor preached that men must ask their wives for forgiveness!  And vice versa, but the message to the men was more shocking. Girls played the drums this Sunday. 

The Lubwisi language project continues to carefully translate books of the Bible, to produce primers and literature and literacy training, to give people a sense of cultural joy as well as a sense that God sees them and cares.

Almost 200 kids have enrolled in Christ School, and we hope to reach 300. Young faces, bright with hope and determination, lugging in their mattresses and buckets and metal trunks. Maybe the next governor of the district passed through these gates today? We have four to six years (O level, possibly combined with the 2-year level) to model grace, love,  integrity, service in a way that will change patterns of life for decades.

Just for fun, since it is Black History Month, the little reminder that world progress in post-slavery post-racism restorative justice brings joy here too, even though we wish they would not write on the dorm walls.
(being a nutritionist is a workout when you have to hold the scale!)

Clinically competent, cheerfully caring dietician/nutrition team members weigh babies, document, and distribute food supplements in the hospital and in the community. This early intervention pays forward in brain development for a lifetime.

Ebola still has not reached into Uganda, for which we are extremely thankful.  It is sobering to see the tents prepared at the very site where Dr. Jonah became infected more than a decade ago.

Christ School's enrollment has passed the 200 mark today, but we are still praying for 300 + to make the school financially sustainable. Today we held the first chapel of the year!

JUSTICE WILL ROLL. Pray for buoyancy when it does!  And pray for real change in our hearts, and in Bundibugyo.

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